COOLIDGE — After preliminary letter grades were unveiled earlier this month, some school districts have been left grappling to make improvements.
Administrators at the Coolidge Unified School District expressed ample frustration over the recently released letter grades at Wednesday’s Governing Board meeting.
Preliminary letter grades were released by the Arizona Board of Education on Oct. 5, with CUSD schools receiving C’s, D’s and one F.
Overall, Coolidge schools maintained the grade letters that had been assigned to the district last year. Coolidge High School sustained a C, while both Coolidge Junior High and Heartland Ranch Elementary remained at a D.
However, West Elementary School slid from a D to an F. Although final grades are anticipated to be released before the end of the year, the school district confirmed Wednesday that it likely will not appeal the grades.
“These are preliminary grades but we don’t anticipate them changing, unfortunately,” said Superintendent Charie Wallace.
Grades are assigned to schools by the state Board of Education based on the overall performance in a number of categories including proficiency, growth, English learning proficiency and growth, acceleration, and readiness, as well as graduation rate and college and career readiness at the high school level.
Coolidge high and junior high school saw small dips in the school’s growth and proficiency points, falling by 1.66 percent and 2.76 percent respectively. However, CHS also saw a 2.20-percent increase under college and career readiness.
In light of decreased points in proficiency and growth, Coolidge Junior High also remained at its D. In both categories, the school saw numbers slump by 2.88 percent and 2.42 percent respectively.
Likewise, Heartland Ranch Elementary retained its D with decreases in proficiency and growth and small gains in areas likes EL growth and acceleration/readiness.
Director of Curriculum Jessica Miller noted that during the course of the 2017-18 school year, Heartland Ranch managed to lower chronic absenteeism at the school, which also counts toward the school’s overall performance.
But it was West Elementary School that saw the most significant changes, with the school seeing drops in four categories.
“Fifty percent of the (grade) weight is coming from the growth category. The other areas where the (school) kind of decreased were subgroups in English language arts and math,” Miller told the board. “We had about two-thirds of the subgroups decrease in ELA and three-fourths decrease in math.”
Absenteeism among students at West Elementary also increased, causing the school to lose bonus points. The elementary school is one of four schools throughout Pinal County to receive an F.
Wallace confirmed that the school district is already working on action plans to improve the letter grades at each site.
“This is urgent, the administration knows it’s urgent,” Wallace said. “I’m not sure if the entire staff knows it’s urgent. We cannot keep teaching the way we are teaching even though it might have been great 10 years ago. ... We’re going to have to look at some really drastic, different approaches.”
In addition, Miller noted that the school district might also be struggling to maintain a balance between getting students to a proficient level in ELA and math and keeping them there.
“We have to keep them proficient,” Miller said. “We focus so much on those lower (performing) kids sometimes that we forget to focus on the proficient kids.”
But school administrators also expressed ample frustration during Wednesday’s meeting.
While Wallace indicated that there are changes that need to be made in the way curriculum is taught at West Elementary School, she also noted that the process itself is flawed with tests like the AzMERIT losing steam with students.
“These tests mean nothing to kids,” Wallace said. “Every principal has shared with me how tired kids are of testing, then you add on that it’s not high stakes like AIMS and they’re going ‘why am I doing this?’”
Principals also noted that teachers and school administrators are sometimes limited in what they can do.
“I think about the absenteeism at West and that bothers me,” said Ben Armstrong, former West principal and current CHS principal. “We had this whole thing where you could earn this computer if you were there everyday, and it ended up being just one of our students that probably was going to be there everyday anyway and didn’t need it.”
Former CHS Principal Dawn Dee Hodge agreed.
“A big issue district-wide is absenteeism — kids getting to school and getting to school on time,” she said. “Since I was at Coolidge High School we had kids walking in 10-15 minutes late. Well, when you miss 25 percent of the instruction what do you expect them to get out of it? And we had kids that (it) happened with everyday.”
For CUSD, the answer may mean a more seamless team effort on the part of district staff and parents.
“We have to change our accountability system, we’ve got to change our delivery of the curriculum — we know all of that,” Wallace said. “But we also need some help from parents in the community.”